Thursday, February 24, 2011

Beyonce Portrays Blackface - Is Black Really Beautiful?

Controversy arose over Beyonce's fashion spread for the March 90th anniversary issue of L'Officiel Paris where she was seen wearing BLACKFACE in tribute to Fela Kuti, the Nigerian human rights activist. The wardrobe for the fashion shoot was designed by her mother, and the whole idea behind the spread was a "return to her African roots, as you can see on the picture, on which her face was voluntarily darkened." Blackface has been a popular trend among elite European fashion.
In history, blackface had connotations of vaudeville and racial hatred. The University of Arizona reports: “Although it existed before the advent of Vaudeville, blackface minstrelsy played a major part in the song, dance, and comedy acts and routines that Vaudeville promoted and popularized. Prior to and during Vaudeville blackface minstrelsy generally entertained audiences at the expense of those it ridiculed.” This can be seen in many early broadcasts where white men would put on blackface using greasepaint or shoe polish, exaggerate their lips, and wear wooly wigs and ragged clothes to portray black people as lazy, buffoonish, ignorant, joyous, and musical.
Beyonce being such an icon in the entertainment and fashion world really made a statement because she is of black descent, so why does she need to voluntarily darken her skin to pay tribute? The idea of Fela Kuti is in connection with her husband Jay Z's Broadway musical production "Fela!" But wearing blackface and tribal clothes doesn't necessarily constitute paying homage to a worldly figure.
Many critics are confused about the whole inspiration of the spread. Jezebel writer Jodai Stewart says, "It's fun to play with fashion and makeup, and fashion has a history of provocation and pushing boundaries. But when you paint your face darker in order to look more 'African,' aren't you reducing an entire continent, full of different nations, tribes, cultures and histories, into one brown color?...It's one thing to feel moved by Fela Kuti, and quite another to treat blackness as a fashion accessory, like a pair of glittery heels you put on because it looks cool...The message we're getting from the fashionistas, is that it's bad to actually have dark skin, but totally cool to pretend you have it."
Charing Ball from Atlanta Post thinks Blackface is a modern form of racial discrimination passed off as an art form. She says, "Blackface is not fashion forward or edgy and, in my opinion, it is just flat-out offensive."
Beyonce is a beautiful and talented black women, but she is getting scrutinized by the press for her obvious skin lightening in beauty ads such as for L'Oreal. Her ads not only make her skin noticeably whiter, but her features resemble that of a white woman as well, especially with her blondish hair. So this raises the question: Is black really beautiful when the fashion world is trying to portray black women with lighter skin tones as the real definition of beauty. Dark skin is praised in the high fashion world like Alex Wek, Naomi Campbell, Grace Jones, and Naomi Sims. But we see light skin black women as a more universal type of beauty seen in superstars like Beyonce, Rihanna, and Tyra Banks. I feel that Beyonce could've paid a tribute to Fela Kuti in a different artistic manner. A black woman shouldn't have to wear blackface since she's already black.

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